Rising Exhibiting Costs Place New Premium on Efficiency

There is good news in the world of tradeshow research: According to a recent study by Exhibit Surveys, an industry research group, a considerable number of new attendees are coming to tradeshows. At the same time, 39 percent of attendees report that their buying decisions are favorably influenced after viewing a company's exhibit.

That's the good news. The bad news is that the rising fuel, energy, and transportation costs that are impacting every sector of the economy have not skipped over tradeshow exhibiting. Overall, the cost per attendee has risen nearly 20 percent. A typical exhibitor is spending $261 per attendee that they speak with—a number that is up 15 percent over the last two years.

The question then becomes: How do you ensure that your exhibitors get the most out their participation? It is no longer sufficient to simply generate a positive ROI. They need to ensure the maximum ROI possible in order to justify these spiraling costs.

Here are the top four ways your exhibitors can get the most out of your tradeshow:

1. Emphasize pre-show promotion

Pre-show promotion is the single most important determining factor in generating show traffic. If your exhibitors want to have a lot of people, particularly people who are likely to be interested in their products and services, they need to make a concerted effort to reach out to them before the show.

There are a number of ways to do this. Some broad-based approaches include placing ads or inserts in industry journals and advertising your participation on your website and industry discussion forums. Exhibitors can target their best customers—and the organizations they want to have as their best customers—with direct mail, e-mail communications, phone calls, and in-person reminders from your sales force.

2. Exhibitors should send their very best people

Your booth staffers act as your organizations' representatives. You want to send the very best people available—individuals who have great product knowledge, strong sales skills, the ability to think on their feet, and can thrive in a high-pressure, high-stress environment.

Focus on selecting staffers who are genuine and enthusiastic. An upbeat personality is definitely a plus—shy, introverted types may have superlative technical skills, yet wilt when thrust into the tradeshow spotlight. If you expect a really technical audience, it's fine to bring your best and brightest minds to be on call to answer questions—but leave the meeting and greeting, selling and schmoozing bit of the show to your sales professionals.

3. Think through show specials

Too often show specials are last minute deals—"Sign up now and we'll give you 15 percent off." That's not the way to handle show specials.

For maximum appeal, it's necessary to craft a show special that is appealing to your customer base; is a real savings rather than a token percentage off; easy to understand; and only available for a limited time. If the offer does not create a sense of urgency with the attendees they have no real pressing need to convert into customers.

Additionally, your exhibitors should include information about their show specials in all of your organization's pre-show promotion. Every time an attendee or would be attendee is looking at this promotion, they're asking "What's in it for me?" Including information about your exhibitors' show specials can help answer that question.

4. Focus on follow up

The period immediately after the show has a tremendous impact on overall show ROI. Within two days of the show close, exhibitors need to have thank you notes in the mail to everyone they saw at the show, thanking them for stopping by.

Additionally, this is the time to follow up with their hottest leads, scheduling sales calls and moving the process forward. Nothing cools faster than tradeshow leads, so it is imperative to strike while the iron is hot.

Susan A. Friedmann, CSP, The Tradeshow Coach, Lake Placid, NY, is an internationally recognized expert working with companies to increase their profitability at tradeshows. She is also the author of Riches in Niches: How to Make it Big in a Small Market and Meeting & Event Planning for Dummies. To contact her, visit www.thetradeshowcoach.com.

Originally published Sept. 1, 2008

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